Tag Archives: Javi Gracia

A Slog on the Tyne

The statue of Bobby Robson that caused my fall

After a promising performance in midweek, I was feeling a bit more positive on the long journey up to Newcastle.  My mood was improved immensely by the gorgeous dog who was accompanying the woman sitting the other side of the aisle from me.

I arrived at the pub a little later than is my habit, by this I mean that it was already open, and was surprised to find that it was not as busy as it usually is, so our party plus the Happy Valley and North West Horns were able to gather in the lovely alcove.  As usual, the beer and the ambience were wonderful, setting us up nicely for the trek uphill to the ground.  As we arrived at St James’ Park, my companions were extolling the virtues of the stadium and I was admiring the statue of Bobby Robson, so I completely missed the fact that there was a kerb in front of me and went flying.  It was mostly my pride that was hurt, but my bruised knees made me start to consider taking the lift up the 14 flights to our seats.  The woman who searched my bag at the turnstiles told me I was gorgeous, which was Geordie for, “You are old and safe looking, so I won’t search your person.”  We entered through the turnstiles and I looked for the lift, quickly realising that it was actually behind the turnstiles in the next block.  So we started up the stairs.  Alice was counting the steps, calling out milestones, as I just counted the flights.  I would have yelled, “Yay, 14!!” at the top if I had any breath left.  As we took our seats, I was thankful that I had recently taken delivery of new prescription distance glasses as it meant that I had a remote possibility of recognising some of the Watford players.

The view from the away end with no zoom employed

The team news had come through in the pub and was …. Interesting.  Gracia had made three changes from the West Ham game, with Kabasele, Janmaat and Pereyra in for Holebas, Capoue and Deulofeu.  I was surprised that Capoue had been dropped, but this was apparently due to illness.  What was more surprising was that Femenía was still in the team, although the formation had been changed to three at the back.  Playing as a wing-back rather than in a back four would likely be a better use of his skills.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Kabasele; Femenía, Janmaat; Cleverley, Doucouré, Hughes; Pereyra, Gray.

Due to a clash of colours, the lads were resplendent in our green away shirt from last season.  Thankfully this news had been communicated before I left home, so I was able to bring the correct shirt with me (sad, I know).

 

Celebrating the opener from Hughes

The game started brilliantly for the Hornets as Pereyra went on a great run before picking out Cleverley, his shot was blocked, but rebounded to Hughes who finished past Dúbravka to send the travelling Hornets wild with joy.  The home side had a chance to break back almost immediately, Kabasele missed the chance to clear a cross from Atsu leaving Almirón with only the keeper to beat, but Foster came out and made the clearance.  Femenía had a great chance to increase Watford’s lead after the ball fell to him on the edge of the area, but his effort was just over the bar.  Then Pereyra found Gray, who really should have grabbed a second for the Hornets, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Newcastle won a free kick some distance from goal, Longstaff lofted the ball into the box and Foster punched for a corner.  Doucouré was the first into the referee’s book for what looked to be a clumsy challenge on Atsu.  He was soon joined by Hayden who was booked for taking down Pereyra.  Hayden’s afternoon didn’t get any better as he raced into the Watford box to latch on to a pass but was frustrated by a brilliant tackle from Kabasele.  From the corner, Cathcart made a double block on shots from Joelinton and Hayden.  Almirón had the ball in the Watford net after rounding Foster, but he had been flagged offside as he started his run.  It was clear that he had seen the flag before putting the ball in the net, so I don’t know why he wasn’t booked.  Watford had another chance to increase their lead when a corner from Femenía was knocked on to Dawson whose attempted bicycle kick was blocked.  Newcastle equalised on 41 minutes after a counterattack finished with Krafth’s cross being knocked down by Hayden to Schär who scored past Foster.  It was a scrappy goal and so frustrating to concede.  Late in the half, there was a booking for each side as both Dawson and Dummett were cautioned for rash tackles.

A corner from Femenia

The Watford fans were not happy at half time.  Despite a promising start, it had been a dreadful half of football with each team scoring with their only on target shot.  Watford spent far too much time trying to find Gray with long balls that he was never going to win, and the passing was generally poor.  A friend commented that it was the sort of game in which both teams were likely to be booed off at half time.  We could only hope for an improvement in the second half.

We were to be disappointed.  The home side had an early chance to take the lead as Dawson gave the ball away allowing Almirón to release Atsu, but the shot was terrible and straight at Foster.  Cathcart was the next to be booked for a foul on Almirón.  Newcastle should have done better from the resulting free kick as Schär got on the end of Longstaff’s delivery, but the header was awful and didn’t trouble Foster.  The home side created a much better chance soon after as Atsu ran the length of the field before cutting the ball back to Almirón, but Kabasele put in an excellent block to stop the shot.  Newcastle had a great chance to take the lead as Hayden unleashed a powerful shot from distance which Foster did well to turn over the bar.

Goalscorer, Hughes, leaves Janmaat to take the throw

At this point, an hour into the game, the travelling Hornets started chanting “We want subs,” but Gracia was unmoved by our plea.  Newcastle threatened again, this time with a shot through a crowd of legs that Foster was down to save.  The Hornets had their first half chance of the second period when the ball bobbled through to Cleverley who had time to control and pick his shot but snatched at a volley which flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Joelinton went down in the box after a challenge, but the referee deemed the tackle to be fair.  There was a rare decent move from the Hornets as Doucouré broke forward, but his cross was deflected to Dúbravka.  Gracia finally made a double substitution with 20 minutes to go, and it was not the change that the crowd had been calling for as Doucouré made way for Chalobah and Success replaced Hughes.  I have to admit that even I booed the removal of Hughes who had been the best player on the pitch.  Will left the field on the side opposite the dugout, so walked in front of the away fans and his name was sung with some gusto.  Success showed his worth to us naysayers as he received a ball over the top and put in a low cross for Gray, but it was intercepted.  Not satisfied with the changes so far, the away fans were chanting for Deulofeu to make an appearance.  Bruce made his first change at this point bringing Manquillo on for Krafth.

Roberto Pereyra

Watford created a decent chance as Cleverley put in a lovely cross for Success who headed goalwards, but Dúbravka pushed the ball out for a corner.  Dawson met the delivery with a header that was blocked, the ball rebounded to Chalobah whose shot was closed down.  Each side made a substitution with 10 minutes to go as Muto came on for Atsu and the travelling fans finally got their wish as Deulofeu came on in place of Gray.  The home side looked as though they were going to take the lead as a low cross from a corner led to a scramble in the Watford box, it seemed inevitable that the ball would be turned into the net, so I was massively relieved when Foster claimed the ball.  The next chance fell to the Hornets as a shot from Cleverley took a wicked deflection off one of his teammates and flew just wide.  It has to be said that, had the ball flown into the net, a flukey winner would have been in keeping with the poor quality of the game.  Newcastle made a final change as Fernández replaced Schär.  The Hornets had a late chance to grab a winner as Success played a lovely ball to Pereyra whose shot was decent, but Dúbravka was able to make the save.  The last chance of the game fell to the home side, Chalobah had appeared to be fouled and was waiting for a free kick as Muto escaped downfield, but the Newcastle man was tracked all the way by Cathcart and could only find the side netting with his shot.  Despite 5 minutes of added time, there were no further chances and the game finished in a draw.

Nathaniel Chalobah

Our first point of the season should have been cause for celebration, but the performance was so disappointing that it was hard to muster any enthusiasm.  It was a pretty terrible game of football between two teams who struggled to string more than a couple of passes together.  So many Watford attacks broke down after a long ball to Gray, or rather, the defender marking Gray, which is no criticism of Andre at all as he is not tall enough to outjump the defenders.  Either that or a pass was hit straight at a defender.  It was a much poorer performance than against either West Ham or Everton, although not as abject as the Brighton showing.  But, at the end of a challenging week, this did not improve my mood at all and left me wondering where our next points would come from.  Particularly as our next two games are home to Arsenal and away to Manchester City.  While I will, of course, be in attendance at both, I am also planning to do other things on those weekends so that I have something to distract me from the football as I am not expecting any enjoyment from either game.  I just hope that the lads prove me wrong.

Second String Impress in the Cup

Gomes back at Vicarage Road

After a busy and frustrating day at work followed by a sweltering train journey, it was a relief finally to get to Watford and think only about football.  On leaving the station, the Coventry fans were already making their presence felt as they appeared to have taken over the pub formerly known as The Flag and were in very good voice.  Leaving them behind, I was soon in the West Herts for a well-earned pint.  It has to be said that the club was not particularly busy, so we were not overly concerned at leaving a little later than we usually do, after all there wouldn’t be any queues to get in to the ground.  As we turned into Occupation Road, our assumption was shown to be rather rash as Richard joined a longer than usual line to get into the SEJ and I was horrified to see a queue from the back of the Rookery reaching half-way up Occupation Road.  I had my fingers crossed that the crowd was heading for the ticket office rather than the turnstiles.  Thankfully it was and I was in the ground in plenty of time for kick-off.

I met up with the family in our usual seats.  Our Cate had brought her goddaughter, Evie, for her first game.  Seeing her resplendent in yellow shirt and yellow, red and black face-paint made me smile and just hope that the lads would do us proud in front of her.

The first sight of the Vicarage Road stand was impressive.  Coventry had been given the whole end and their fans had come in droves, which was great to see.

Gathering for a corner

The team news had come through in the West Herts and there had been a game of “guess the line-up”.  It has to be said that nobody was scoring highly.  I was probably alone in welcoming the selection of Gomes in goal but, after his incredible service to us, I couldn’t bear the thought of his last game being the cup final.

The starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Foulquier; Pereyra, Chalobah, Quina, Sarr; Welbeck, Success.  Watford Academy graduate, Brandon Mason, started for the visitors.

The first thing that I noted down was some lovely footwork from Quina, but the first chance of the game fell to the visitors as the Watford defence stopped, expecting a free kick to be awarded to Coventry, but the referee played advantage allowing O’Hare to break forward and unleash a shot that was wide of the target.  Watford’s first chance came as Pereyra played in Welbeck, but the shot was high and wide.  The best chance of the game so far came on the half hour with a cracking shot from Pereyra that required a smart save by Wilson in the Coventry goal.  The resulting corner tested the keeper, but he managed to make the catch at the second attempt.

Goalscorer Sarr

The Hornets took the lead in the 36th minute when Success played a perfect through ball for Sarr who shot across Wilson into the opposite corner to score on his full debut.  At this point, the “How sh*t must you be …” song rang out from our fans.  That took the post-goal smile off my face.  Why do fans spend so much energy abusing the opposition instead of supporting their own team?  There was a scare for the Hornets when Chalobah missed a tackle allowing Kelly to break forward, but his shot from distance was well over the target.  The visitors had a chance to level the game in time added on at the end of the half as Dabo broke forward, but salvation came in the unexpected form of Success who was back to stop the shot and concede a corner that came to nothing.

At half-time, Marvin Sordell, who had previously played for both sides, was the guest on the field.  I well remember watching him as a youngster and have been saddened by news of his mental health struggles over the years which have led to his premature retirement from the game.  I am delighted that he was given a tremendous reception as he walked along the front of the Rookery.

Celebrating Janmaat’s goal

The visitors made a change at half-time replacing Mason with McCallum.  They also had the first chance of the half, but a tackle from Janmaat ensured that a dangerous through ball into the box came to nothing.   Sarr looked to have lost the ball, due to a heavy touch, but raced down the wing after it and was able to put in a cross for Welbeck who had a couple of defenders on him so was unable to shoot.  Welbeck had another chance soon after when the ball came back to him via Janmaat, but his overhead kick was wide of the target.  A poor back pass from Mariappa nearly put the Hornets in trouble, but Gomes was out quickly to make the clearance.  Sarr went on another run and crossed, this time for Quina, but the youngster skyed his shot.  Coventry threatened with a low cross from Eccles, but Gomes was able to make the save.  Watford threatened again after a cross from Foulquier was blocked but fell to Chalobah whose shot was deflected over the target.    Ten minutes into the half, Watford scored a second goal as Success found Janmaat who advanced and hit a lovely shot into the top corner.  I breathed a sigh of relief at this point.  I know that 2-0 is a dangerous score, but surely the game was now ours.  Watford continued to attack as Sarr went on a brilliant run before crossing for Success whose shot was blocked.

Congratulating Penaranda after his wonder goal

Coventry made a second substitution bringing Godden on for Kastaneer.  The substitute tried to make a name for himself, but his shot was well over the bar.  Each side made a change on 64 minutes as Peñaranda replaced Pereyra for the home side and Eccles made way for Shipley for the visitors.  There was another lovely move from the Hornets as Sarr released Janmatt who found Welbeck who appeared to get the ball caught under his feet before shooting just wide.  The third goal came on 69 minutes and was a beauty from Peñaranda who picked up the ball on the edge of the box and powered it into the top corner.  Gracia introduced another new face as Sarr was replaced by Dele-Bashiru, who almost scored with his first touch of the game after receiving a lovely pass from Success, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The only caution of the game went to Dabo, who was booked for a foul on Success.  Chalobah stepped up to take the free kick and it was a wonderful attempt, but Wilson made the save.  Peñaranda had a chance to increase the lead further, but his shot cleared the bar.  Another lovely move involving Peñaranda and Janmaat deserved a better outcome, but the shot from the Dutchman cleared the bar.  A rare second half attack from the visitors finished with O’Hare going down after a series of challenges, but nothing was given.  The Hornets had one last chance in the game as Janmaat went on a lovely run before putting in a cross, but there was no Watford man to get on the end of it and it was headed clear.

Tom Dele-Bashiru

So at last a win, our first since the trip to Huddersfield in April.  It may have been against lower division opposition, but it was convincing and therapeutic.  All three goals were gorgeous, and it was great to see Sarr and Peñaranda getting their first goals for the club.  It was also pleasing to see a clean sheet at last.  A lot of the football was impressive, demonstrating the depth of our squad, but the only player that I would consider for a start on Saturday is Janmaat who was superb.  That said, I look forward to Sarr and Welbeck gaining full fitness as they will be a lot of fun to watch.

A special mention must go to the Coventry fans who, despite having little to cheer, were loud and proud in support of their team throughout the game.

But the most important news of the evening was that Evie enjoyed her first football match.  She would love to come again, although my suggestion that, as she is now our lucky mascot, she should make the trip to Newcastle fell on deaf ears, and that was before she heard about the steps to the away end.  Youngsters!!

A Goal at Last, but No Points

Gathering for a corner

After the poor start to the season, the last thing that I needed to hear before this game was that Deeney was out after surgery and Doucouré and Pereyra were both doubtful due to injury.  I had not been very hopeful anyway, but any vestiges of confidence disappeared completely.

I arrived at the West Herts at my usual time to see Don already in place, the rest of our crew gathered slowly.  When the team news came through, a bloke at the other end of the table told his friends that they wouldn’t want to see it.  So, I was rather relieved to discover that Gracia had been forced to make only the two changes with Cleverley and Gray coming in for Pereyra and Deeney.  Doucouré had passed a late fitness test.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Dawson, Femenía; Capoue, Doucouré; Deulofeu, Cleverley, Hughes; Gray.  Record signing, Sarr, was to make his first appearance on the bench.

As the teams came out, the Audentior banner was run up the centre of the Rookery.

After the past few games, when Foster has been wearing a disturbing shade of orange, it was good to see him sporting a blue shirt.  Maybe this would herald a change in our fortunes.

Cleverley congraulates Gray on his goal

Those hopes were dashed in a mad first couple of minutes.  First Deulofeu tumbled in the West Ham box, the penalty appeal was waved away.  The visitors then broke down the other end of the pitch, Cathcart put in a welcome tackle, but the ball broke to Lanzini who went down under a challenge from Doucouré and the referee pointed to the spot.  The crowd in the Rookery behind the goal, tried their best to put Noble off, but he sent Foster the wrong way and the visitors were ahead.  The Hornets had a great chance for an equaliser when Femenía surged down the wing, the ball reached Deulofeu by way of Hughes and Gray, but his shot hit the top of the crossbar, I felt that he should have done better.  Watford had a really good spell of possession at this point, but the next chance fell to the visitors as Anderson broke forward and found Lanzini whose flicked shot was just wide.  From the goal kick, Watford had a great chance to level the score, but Deulofeu’s shot was blocked by Diop.  A lovely passing move from the Hornets finished with a shot from Doucouré being put behind for a corner which came to nothing.  The equaliser came in the 17th minute when Hughes played in Gray who shot across Fabianski into the opposite corner.  It was lovely to have a goal to celebrate at last and, given the positive way that we were playing, I now felt that we could get something from this game.

Cleverley getting into position while Kiko is distracted

Gray had a decent chance to grab a second soon after, but his shot was wild and flew high and wide.  At the other end, West Ham’s record signing Haller attempted an overhead kick, but Foster was equal to it.  On 25 minutes, there was a break in the game for the players to take on water and cool down a bit.  The rehydration was certainly needed, as the game had been end-to-end and played at quite a pace.  The match restarted with a decent chance for the Hornets as Holebas put a great cross in for Gray, but the shot was terrible and flew wide of the near post.  At the other end, Anderson tried his luck with a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.  The corner was met by the head of Ogbonna, but it was an easy catch for Foster.  There were appeals for a penalty as Gray appeared to be fouled in the box while attempting to get on the end of a cross from Holebas.  It was clear that the referee was checking via VAR, but he indicated that the previously awarded throw-in should go ahead.  Watford created another good chance as Deulofeu played the ball out to Femenía, who put in a lovely cross for Doucouré whose header was deflected for a corner.  The delivery from Holebas fell to Cleverley who shanked it way over the bar.  The visitors should have increased their lead from a corner as Anderson’s shot came back off the inside of the far post, much to my relief.

So, the half-time whistle went with the score level.  It had been an entertaining half of football with some lovely play from the Hornets but, as is so often the case, the finishing was wasteful.

During the break, there was a presentation about the WFC Community Trust’s Golden Memories programme.  This is aimed at people with mild to moderate dementia and “will use a host of memorabilia and magic moments to stimulate the senses and evoke personal memories”.  This was introduced by Hannah Foster who is the contact point for the programme (Hannah.foster@watfordfc.com) with a guest appearance by Watford legend Tom Walley, who is suffering from dementia.  I was delighted at the reception that Tom was given as he waved appreciatively to the crowd.

Capoue and Cleverley wait for the ball in

The first attack of the second half came from the Hornets, Deulofeu’s shot was blocked with a number in the Rookery claiming that it was stopped by a hand.  The referee did not agree.  At the other end Yarmolenko tried a looping shot, but Foster parried and then gathered at the second attempt.  The Hornets should have taken the lead ten minutes into the half when a lovely ball from Deulofeu released Gray who rounded the goalkeeper before crossing for Hughes, who looked to have an easy tap in from close range but managed to knock the ball wide.  West Ham made their first substitution as Antonio replaced Yarmolenko.  The substitute almost made an immediate impact as he bore down on goal, but Foster came out to block the shot and then followed up to make a tackle outside the box and clear the ball.  Watford had another excellent chance as Hughes played a lovely ball back to Deulofeu in the box, but the shot was straight at Fabianski.  The first booking of the game went to Holebas (of course) for a poor tackle on Antonio.  A minute later, the visitors retook the lead with a goal that was gifted to them by poor defending.  Anderson was allowed to waltz into the box without a challenge before pulling the ball back for Haller to score.  It was incredibly dispiriting after some excellent attacking work by the Hornets.  The home side had a chance to hit back almost immediately as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Gray whose effort was just wide of the far post.

Sarr and Welbeck waiting to come on

The Hornets threatened again after Cleverley made a tackle in midfield and advanced down the wing, the ball found its way to Deulofeu whose shot was easily caught by Fabianski.  A nasty looking foul on Cleverley was not penalised, allowing the visitors to break, the resultant shot was deflected for a corner.  Antonio was allowed a free header from Anderson’s delivery, Foster made an excellent save to keep it out, but he conceded another corner.  Again, from the corner, Foster was equal to the header from Antonio, but he could only tip it onto the bar and Haller scored the rebound.  While all this was going on, Welbeck and Sarr had been on the sidelines waiting to come on.  They finally replaced Deulofeu and Hughes, but it looked like the substitutions were too late for the Hornets.  Welbeck’s first meaningful attack was stopped short as he was taken down by Ogbonna, who was booked for his trouble.  The visitors made a second substitution with Fornals replacing Anderson who angered the home fans by walking across the pitch instead of leaving at the touchline where he had been standing.  Some good work from Sarr created a chance for Cleverley who spun and shot just over the target.  Cleverley then turned provider, playing in Doucouré whose shot was saved by Fabianski.  Watford continued to create chances as a corner reached Gray, who held off the defender before hitting a shot that was just wide of the target.  Each side made a final substitution as Quina replaced Cleverley for the home side and Lanzini made way for Sanchez for the visitors.  The Hornets had one last chance to reduce the deficit after a foul on Welbeck, but the free kick from Holebas was cleared to Capoue whose shot from distance flew over the bar.  The final whistle went to boos from a good number of the home fans who had remained in the ground.

Our first sight of record signing, Sarr

Back at the West Herts, our numbers were depleted as some of our group had made a rapid departure.  But, as Jacque and I were going to have to get trains home that were likely to be packed with celebrating West Ham fans, we decided to have a couple of drinks to let the crowds disperse.

The post-match mood was sombre.  As last week against Everton, we faced a team that we could and should have beaten, but we were undone by our lack of clinical finishing and the generosity of our defence.  Dawson is getting a lot of criticism, but he was left exposed by Femenía who certainly adds to our attacking options but is so often missing in defence.  I was encouraged by a lot of the forward play but, too often, the players wait for the perfect sight of goal and end up losing out to a defender.

As I sat there sulking, I commented to one of the West Herts regulars that I hate football.  This started a conversation in which the complaints about the current performances were followed by reminiscences of watching football in the Furphy years, terrible pitches and away trips to Workington and Torquay with less than friendly welcomes from the locals.  We then got on to a discussion of recent owners and how close we were to not having a club at all and suddenly the day’s defeat didn’t seem so bad.  I have watched with horror the goings on at Bolton and Bury in recent months.  Knowing how easily that could have been our fate, I find it hard to get too despondent about a couple of Premier League defeats.  I have every confidence that we can turn this poor run of form around and in years to come we will be looking back on these as the good old days.

 

Another Defeat at Goodison Park

Troy leading the team out at Goodison Park

As is usual for games in Liverpool, I went up on Friday to see an old friend.  Lots of catching up and a scary amount of reminiscing about a play that we were involved in during sixth form and a pub that we both worked in.  The locals were a cast of characters whose names and catch phrases we both remembered, while struggling to recall what play I saw last week (actually, it was Blues in the Night at the Kiln Theatre, very good).

Saturday lunchtime, I bid them farewell before heading to the designated pub.  As planned, I arrived just before 1 and was greeted with questions about where on earth I had been to be so late.  Our travelling group was rather depleted for this game, but we were joined by the Happy Valley crowd so the turnout was respectable.  As usual, both the beer and the food were excellent, but we were a little concerned that there was no sign of the shuttle buses to the ground that are usually lined up outside.  On leaving the pub we spotted a steward who directed us to the new boarding place, so we were at Goodison in plenty of time.  As we passed through the fan zone, it was lovely to hear Z-cars, even if it wasn’t for us.

Foster takes a free kick

Team news was that Gracia had made only one change from the Brighton game with Pereyra in for Gray.  So, Watford’s starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Doucouré, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney.  Dropping Gray seemed a bit harsh after his great pre-season, it wasn’t his fault that he had no service last week.  That said, it was pleasing to see both Quina and Welbeck on the bench.  The home side had Richarlison in the starting line-up and, of course, our previous manager in the dug-out.

Everton had placed flags at each seat in the home stands which were to be waved as the players emerged from the tunnel.  It has to be said that they were not a patch on the flags at Vicarage Road.  Maybe we were unlucky with our positioning, but we were surrounded by some of the worst of our fan base and started the game with our ears being assaulted by an abusive song aimed at Silva.  Now I have no love at all for the man, but he won’t give a damn what we think about him (that was obvious when he left), neither will the Everton fans, so chanting abuse at him is totally futile and detracts from supporting our own team.

Roberto Pereyra

The Hornets started well and had an early chance as Deulofeu won a tackle in the midfield, then hared upfield before trying to play Deeney in, but, unfortunately, the pass was overhit.  The Watford defence were guilty of complacency as they paid no attention when an Everton corner looked to be rolling out on the opposite side of the goal, they had missed the presence of Digne who managed to keep the ball in before shooting just wide of the near post.   Everton took the lead in the 10th minute and it was too easy.  Digne found Bernard on the left, he cut inside, moved the ball onto his right foot and slotted it just inside the near post.  At the time, it looked as though Foster should have done better, but his view was likely blocked by the defenders and it seems that the shot also took a deflection.  But it was not a good start and, given our record at Goodison Park, I was not hopeful.  The first booking of the game also went to the home side as Coleman was cautioned for a foul on Pereyra.  Watford had a great chance to score an equaliser as a deep corner from Holebas was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort rebounded off the crossbar.  There was a half-hearted appeal for a penalty from the home side as Calvert-Lewin tumbled in the box, but the referee was having none of it and VAR didn’t get involved.  At this point the chants for Danny Welbeck started in the away end.

Lining up to meet a free kick

The next caution of the game was earned by Capoue for a foul on former teammate, Richarlison.  The lively Deulofeu made another foray into the Everton box, but was crowded out by the defence.  The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position as Hughes was fouled on the edge of the box, but Holebas wasted the chance with his delivery flying wide of the far post.  Watford also had a shout for a penalty as Deulofeu went down in the box.  On this occasion VAR was invoked, which prompted a loud voice behind me to declare that they were never going to give the penalty as they wouldn’t humiliate the referee.  I must say that this was a new take on VAR for me.  Maybe they had a point, though, as the penalty wasn’t given.  The Hornets had a great chance to draw level as Deeney played the ball back to Capoue whose powerful shot required a decent save from Pickford to keep it out.   At the other end, Richarlison should have extended the lead for the home side as he got on the end of a free kick from Sigurdsson and was allowed a free header which, thankfully, cleared the bar.  Some good work from Pereyra on the left led to him winning a free kick.  The delivery from Deulofeu was excellent, but Capoue was unable to connect so the chance went begging.  In time added on at the end of the half, Hughes found Deeney whose shot was blocked, he claimed by a hand, but the referee wasn’t moved.

So we reached half time a goal down, although the performance from the Hornets was considerably better than last week, and we were unlucky to be behind.  As the substitutes came out to warm-up during the break, there were cheers and applause for Welbeck.

Deulofeu prepares to take a free kick

The second half started with a card for Gomes for a foul on Capoue.  Watford had a great chance to equalise when Capoue broke forward and found Deulofeu, who played a lovely ball through to Deeney, who was one on one with the goalkeeper, but his shot was blocked by Pickford’s face.  So frustrating (and painful for the Everton keeper).   Holebas then picked up his booking, again for a foul on Richarlison.  The young Brazilian had a chance to extend their lead but, again, his header from a free kick was over the bar.  On the hour mark, Pereyra wasted a decent attack by theatrically falling to the ground due to the presence of Sigurdsson.  It was a pathetic dive and thoroughly deserving of the yellow card that was brandished. The first substitution was made by the home side as Walcott replaced Richarlison, the former Watford man leaving the field to jeers from the hard of thinking among the away crowd.  Another decent chance for the Hornets ended with a bit of head tennis as Doucouré knocked the ball on to Pereyra whose effort cleared the bar.  Gracia made his first substitution on 67 minutes bringing Welbeck on for his debut in place of Hughes.  Danny’s first touch was less than accomplished and, hey presto, the ‘answer’ was transformed into a donkey in the eyes of some in our vicinity.

Welbeck waits for the ball to drop

For the home side Kean replaced Calvert-Lewin and, almost immediately, Silva was forced to make his final substitution as an injury to Digne meant he had to be replaced by Holgate.  Welbeck’s next contribution was decent enough as he found Deulofeu but the Spaniard’s shot was well over the bar.  That was Gerry’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced by Cleverley and, in contrast to the jeering of Richarlison by a large number of those in the away end, he was applauded off by the Everton fans.  Watford wasted another chance to get back on terms when Femenía put in a decent cross, but there was no Watford player in the box to meet it, so it was an easy catch for Pickford.  Gracia made a final change for the Hornets bringing Gray on for Capoue, meaning there were 3 strikers on the pitch.  Unfortunately, it did not lead to a goal with the best chance coming when a shot from Deeney was blocked and broke to Doucouré but his shot was well wide of the target.  Everton had a chance to increase their lead when Kean went on a dangerous run but, as so often in this game, the shot was well wide.  Kean had another chance to increase the Everton lead in time added on and, from my vantage point, I thought that the ball was in the net and had been ruled out for offside.  Replays showed that it had rolled just the other side of the post.  The final whistle went on a narrow defeat and, thankfully, there was just a smattering of boos.

Etienne Capoue

We headed back into town for a quick drink prior to catching the train home.  The post-match consensus was that we were unlucky not to get a point from the game.  While it wasn’t a great performance, it was considerably better than the previous week and there were certainly some positives.  The midfield looked far more effective, particularly Deulofeu, but the defence remained fragile.  The two Craigs do not seem to be gelling.  That said, Everton’s shooting was pretty woeful throughout the game.   The biggest disappointment was that they were there for the taking, but we couldn’t capitalise as their defence was the difference between the teams.

There was also some discussion of the away crowd.  The protracted and pathetic abuse of Silva and Richarlison contrasted badly with the warm reception that the Everton fans gave both Deulofeu and Cleverley.  Then, when they weren’t abusing former players, they turned on ours.  Dawson seems to be a particular target for the boo boys at the moment, but what really rankled was the moaning about Welbeck.  He is clearly rusty and will take a while to get back to fitness, but he looks like he will be a great asset to us.  I am already excited about his partnership with Deeney, and there were some early signs that they are already forming an understanding.

So we finish the weekend bottom of the Premier League due to our name starting with W, although the table is not worth a look until at least four games have been played.  I hope at that stage things are looking a bit brighter or I might have to stop going to away games as the moaning is bad for my health.

 

Disappointing Defeat to Start the Season

Sarr visits the lower GT

During the week, I changed trains at Embankment station and found myself looking at a poster for Sky Sports which featured a large photo of Troy Deeney.  I sat staring at it, feeling ridiculously proud.  I am sure that when Troy was working as a brickie he never imagined himself as captain of a Premier League team and that he would be a poster boy for Sky.  But he has worked incredibly hard for his success and has become a real role model.  I am delighted for him and a poster like this will always make me smile.

After the appetiser last week, it was back to the West Herts to prepare for a proper football match.  Our party gradually gathered and the mood was positive.  The transfer window has been a good one for us.  The arrival of both Sarr and Welbeck this week was very welcome.  The Welbeck signing came out of nowhere and seems to be an excellent piece of business.  Added to that, we have kept all of our key players, so come into this season stronger than we finished last.  Then, to make us all even happier, sweetie man, Glenn, arrived with a bag of freshly made pork scratchings that he gets from his local butcher.  They are absolutely gorgeous and always welcome.  The one negative for me going into the new season was the introduction of VAR.  I have always been against the technology.  Football is not a game that stops and starts, so is not suited to lengthy reviews.  I have experienced them as a baseball fan in the US, and never been convinced that they always lead to ‘correct’ decisions.  Also the idea that the spontaneity of goal celebrations may be impacted due to the wait for confirmation really bothers me.  If the lino has his flag down, I am gone.  My first experience of VAR in the Premier League was watching the West Ham vs Man City game in the West Herts and the interruptions were attracting a lot of negative comment and irritating me immensely.

Gathering for a corner

As Trond was away, I had the honour of accompanying Don to the ground.  As we reached the disabled entrance, the young steward who, to be fair to her, had never seen me before asked if I was into football.  “Well, I’m a season ticket holder and have been coming here for 40 years, so ….”  She looked suitably embarrassed.  Entering through the opposite end of the Rookery to normal, I was able to buy my programme from Doreen Pym.  It was like old times, I must admit that I still miss seeing her in Bill Mainwood’s programme hut.

Team news was that there would not be debuts for either of the new signings with the only change from the Real Sociedad game being the return of Deulofeu in place of Sema.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Feminía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu; Gray, Deeney.  Even if we weren’t to see them on the pitch, Welbeck and Sarr were introduced to the crowd before the game and were given a very warm welcome.

Just before the teams took to the field, Z-cars rang out and was greeted with cheers throughout the ground.  At last the club have seen sense.  I wasn’t to know at that point, that it would be the highlight of the afternoon.

Holebas takes a throw in

The game started positively and there was an early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu showed some quick feet to get himself into position and then took a shot from the edge of the area which was well over the crossbar.  The first shot on target fell to the visitors, but Locadia’s effort was straight at Foster.  The Hornets immediately launched a counter attack, Deeney was tackled, the ball fell to Hughes, who was also closed down, the ball fell to Deeney again, he managed to get in a shot, but it was easily saved by Ryan.  There was a great chance for the visitors as Stephens played the ball out to Propper whose shot was only just over the crossbar.  Watford then had a great opportunity as the ball broke to Deulofeu who charged into the box, but was tracked all the way by Duffy and eventually went down under a challenge.  He called for a penalty, but his appeal was waved away.  Brighton took the lead with a bizarre goal.  From the other end of the pitch, it appeared that the initial cross was going out for a goal kick when Holebas headed it back in, it reached Groß whose cross was turned in by Doucouré.  It was a poor goal to concede, but there was plenty of time to recover and Watford tried to break back immediately as Doucouré looked to make amends by finding Hughes in the box, but Will was being challenged and could only shoot wide of the near post.  The visitors looked to increase their lead when a dangerous looking cross came in from Groß, Foster did well to make the catch as Murray challenged.  At the other end Capoue tried a shot from distance, but it was well over the target.  Capoue then played Femenía in, but the shot was deflected for a corner.  The Spaniard had another chance from the set piece as Ryan’s punch dropped to him, but this time his shot cleared the bar.  Watford nearly grabbed an equaliser before half time as a free kick from Holebas appeared to be heading for the goal until Ryan stretched to get a hand to it and keep it out.

Deulofeu and Capoue

It had been a disappointing half of football, but we were only a goal down and I was hopeful that the second half would see a similar turnaround to the previous week.

For half time entertainment, we had the introduction of the dizzy kicks competition.  Bizarrely, it was won by the only bloke who failed to score.  He was given the win due to getting the loudest cheer from the crowd!!  Now, not that I am biased as I know one of the lads who was defeated, but the rules need to be examined as that can’t be right.

Gracia made a substitution at the break bringing a bleached blond Pereyra on for Deulofeu.  I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this change, replacing like with like, but was happy to see Roberto tracking back and fighting for possession.  The Hornets should have drawn level early in the half as Femenía nipped in while a defender was shepherding the ball out, he dribbled around him on the by-line before pulling the ball back for Gray whose shot was blocked on the line by a combination of Dunk and Ryan.

Deeney waiting for the ball to drop

Watford won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was brought down on the edge of the box.  Pereyra took the free kick, which hit the wall prompting him to shout for a penalty.  I had already moved on when the scoreboard informed us that VAR was checking for the penalty, and then confirmed that it was not a penalty.  It all seemed rather pointless.  If a penalty is awarded, I want to see the referee pointing to the spot and, if not, waving it away, the series of statements on the big screen just irritated me.  Brighton made a double substitution on 64 minutes with Andone and Maupay replacing Locadia and Murray.  The visitors got a second goal almost immediately as Holebas failed to stop a cross from Groß allowing Andone to score with his first touch of the game.  At this point, the Brighton fans started a chant of “We’re gonna win the league.”  Watford tried to reduce the deficit with a deep cross that was met by the head of Dawson, but Ryan was equal to it.  Gracia made another substitution as Success replaced Gray, again this seemed like an odd change as the problem was not the finishing but the creation of chances.  Sure enough, it was the visitors who got a third as a through ball was played to Maupay who rounded Foster to score on his debut.  At this point there were loud boos from the Watford fans and the ground started to empty.  Success was almost gifted a chance to get one back through a terrible back pass from Dunk, but Ryan was first to the ball.  There was one last chance to spare our blushes as Pereyra was tripped on the edge of the box and Dunk received the first booking of the game.  Pereyra’s free kick rebounded off the wall, the follow-up reached Dawson but, again, the shot was blocked on the line.  When 4 minutes of added time was announced, there were loud boos from the Watford fans.  The only action during added time was the appearance of Bernardo in place of March for the visitors.

Pereyra and Capoue prepare for a free kick

The final whistle went to boos from the Watford faithful and, while the Brighton players spent some time celebrating with their fans, the Watford players disappeared pretty quickly.  But, fair play to Deeney, he did his usual lap of the pitch to applaud the fans in each stand and, despite the anger and disappointment in the crowd, he was warmly applauded for it.

The crowd back at the West Herts were subdued.  It had been a very disappointing performance with nothing to redeem it.  Hughton-era Brighton were difficult to play against as they defended resolutely, and that hasn’t changed under the new manager.  They gave the Watford players no space in which to play and this team has always struggled against teams who close them down.  The midfield was smothered and any promising passages of play finished with passes going astray.  But Potter has added some attacking prowess, so Brighton look to be a much better team than they were last season and we were all taken a little by surprise.  The main disappointment, though, was the fact that we have so much talent in the team but were given a completely lacklustre performance.  I was also disappointed in the substitutions.  Given how the midfield was struggling, it seemed pointless to replace Deulofeu with Pereyra, I thought that Cleverley would have been a better bet as he could offer something different.  Also, given that Gray has been on fire in pre-season, it seemed unlikely that Success would be a better bet up front.  Anyway, with a visit to Everton next week (we never win there), I am trying to convince myself that we can’t possibly be that bad two weeks in a row.  But, if we are, at least Everton is a cracking day out.

 

A Win at Last in the Graham Taylor Cup

Happy memories of meeting GT and Rita

Having been unable to make the trip to Austria and then being in the US for work last week, this was my first game of this pre-season and I was really looking forward to seeing some live football.  As much as anything, I wished to displace the memory of the Cup Final as the last game that I had seen.  The flashbacks are still a cause of some distress.  While on the train, I received a message from Don (well before midday) informing me that the West Herts was open.  I arrived at my usual time to find Don at “our” table and all was right with the world.

We headed for the ground earlier than usual with the intention of buying this season’s new shirts (although I am not a fan as yet, and the shirts without a pre-printed name and number were hard to find).  As we arrived at the stadium, it was lovely to bump into Dave M and Miles for a catch up.  Then Olly Wicken appeared brandishing the new Watford Treasury, which saved me heading back down Vicarage Road to find a copy.  If you don’t already have one, it really is a magnificent publication.

This being the GT memorial game, there was time to pay respects to the great man and to admire the yellow and red flowers that had been placed in his hands, which was rather lovely.

A family photo with GT last season

Once inside the ground, we headed for our usual spot in the Rookery (if not our usual seats).  The first notable difference was the big screens which have been added to the Vicarage Road and Rookery Stands.  They look very good and should be visible from all areas of the ground.  Hopes that Z-cars would be reinstated were cruelly dashed as the players took the field to “I’m Still Standing” and, as has happened at all games since the change, the pulse failed to quicken.  I remain baffled at this decision which has no apparent benefit but has been a detriment to the matchday experience for many.

Before the game, Rita Taylor and her grandson, Jake, were on the pitch for the minute’s applause for GT.  They were then introduced to the players as GT’s favourite song, Buddy Holly’s Raining in my Heart, was played over the tannoy.  I must admit to having tears in my eyes at this point.

Hughes holding on to the ball

Watford’s starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Doucouré, Sema; Gray, Deeney.

Real Sociedad were playing in green shirts that looked very similar to our last season’s away shirts, which did give an impression of two Watford XIs lining up in a practice match.

The visitors almost made the perfect start as a cross from Ødegaard was headed goalwards by Willian José and it took a very good save from Foster to keep the game goalless.  Real Sociedad threatened again with a shot from Merino that flew over the bar.  The visitors should have taken the lead when the ball was played through to Oyarzabel, Foster was out of his goal so the Real man had an open net to aim at, but he opted to flick the ball goalwards and it was with some relief that we saw it roll wide of the far post.  Watford’s first shot on goal came after 20 minutes with a shot from distance on the left from Holebas, but the Real keeper, Remiro, was down to make the save.  The visitors had another decent chance with a shot from distance from Merino that was just wide of the target.

Holebas and Doucoure prepare for a free kick

The breakthrough came when Zaldúa bounced off Sema in the box and the referee, Craig Pawson, pointed to the spot.  There was some moaning near me in the Rookery but, while it may have been soft, it was a definite penalty.  The crowd behind the goal in the Rookery tried to put Oyarzabel off, but he sent Foster the wrong way to give the visitors a deserved lead.  Watford tried to hit back as a Holebas corner was headed goalwards by Dawson, but the keeper was equal to it.  The visitors then won a free kick in a dangerous position, Ødegaard hit his effort through the wall, but Foster gathered easily.  Real Sociedad should have increased their lead on the stroke of half time as Merino met a corner from Ødegaard with a header that rebounded off the inside of the far post to safety.

The half time whistle went after a half in which the visitors had most of the possession, but the Watford defence had been solid.  Foster had pulled off a couple of decent saves and the first impression of Craig Dawson was a very good one.

Hughes, the provider, congratulates Gray on his goal

Those who spent too long at the bar/concessions/loo at half time missed the equaliser that came 3 minutes into the second half.  Hughes played a lovely through ball to Gray who held off the defender and finished (apparently with the help of a deflection).  Ten minutes into the second half, the Hornets had a great chance to take the lead as the ball broke to Doucouré, whose shot was blocked, the ball rebounded to Deeney but his shot was well over the target.  The visitors had another chance with a shot from Portu that hit the side netting.  The resulting goal kick was taken down by Deeney who fed Gray, but the shot was well wide of the far post.   Real Sociedad almost capitalised on a mistake by Doucouré which allowed Isak to escape upfield, he passed to José, who was frustrated by Foster, but the ball broke back to Isak whose shot was cleared off the line by Holebas.  Isak had another chance to regain the lead for the visitors soon after, but Foster made the stop.  Watford had a great chance to take the lead with three shots in quick succession, but the efforts from Deeney and Sema were blocked, while Remiro saved Capoue’s effort.  The visitors had made numerous changes, but Gracia waited until the 76th minute to make his first substitution, replacing Sema with Cleverley.  He then brought Janmaat on for Holebas (I still don’t recognise Janmaat without curls).  Just when it appeared that the GT game would end in a draw yet again, Capoue played a lovely ball over the top to Gray who ran on, beat the defender and finished past Remiro to send the Watford fans home happy.

Deeney and Doucoure congratulate Gray after scoring the winning goal

After the full-time whistle, Rita and Jake were back on the pitch to present a salver to the visitors and the trophy to Troy Deeney.  There were smiles all round and it was lovely to see the warmth in the interaction between Troy and Rita, who are old friends by now.

On the way out of the Rookery, I was delighted to bump into an old friend from my days of taking the supporter’s coaches.  She doesn’t go to many away games these days meaning that our paths rarely cross, so it was a real treat to see her.

On the way back up Occupation Road, there were the usual crowds outside the players’ entrance.  It has to be said that Janmaat was allowed to disappear without much fuss, but Deulofeu was kept rather longer.  I suspect that this was a result of people wanting photos of his outfit, which was an interesting choice with matching top and trousers which to me looked as though they were made from his grandmother’s curtains, although I am not a dedicated follower of fashion.

Craig Dawson

Back in the West Herts, the post-match consensus was that it had been a very enjoyable game.  Real Sociedad had been good opposition and, with their pace and attacking prowess in the first half, it looked as though we would be well beaten, but a decent defensive performance kept the score down.  The Hornets put in a considerably better performance in the second half and were well worthy of the win.  Gray was particularly impressive up front, always willing and he took his two goals very well indeed.  While pre-season results are meaningless, it is good for morale to start the season following a win.

Bring on the Brighton.

 

Pride Overcomes Heartbreak at Wembley

Before the Cup Final in 1984

I will start by saying that I can’t bring myself to write a full match report.  Everyone who is reading this will have seen the match and I am sure, like me, you don’t want to relive it.  But what I do want to relive is the build-up to the game and the experiences of the day.

My build-up started straight after the semi-final when I received an email from David Hyams suggesting that we create a good luck banner for the final.  The idea was to collect messages from fans from all over the world and display them on a banner to present to the players before the game.  Banners had been produced on three previous occasions, for the 1999, 2006 and 2013 play-off finals.  My involvement in 1999 was limited to having my photo taken with the banner outside Wembley, but I got involved in 2006 and 2013 helping to publicise the initiative and liaising with the club.  On this occasion, we had a great point of initial contact at the club in Dave Messenger, who immediately supported the venture and put us in touch with Hamish in the media team.  Jon Marks then got involved, providing us with a great background photo to use on the banner and arranging for us to go to the ground to present it to the players.

On the big screen looking as nervous as I felt

My next contribution was a couple of weeks before the game when Jon Marks asked if I wanted to be one of the fans featuring in the FA’s pre-match video.  I was incredibly busy at work, so taking a Monday morning off for filming was really not a good idea.  Needless to say, I agreed to do it.  The filming was taking place at 10:30 on a Monday morning.  I arrived at the same time as the Watford Ladies’ captain, Helen Ward.  I was also told that Nigel Gibbs was currently being interviewed and my heart skipped a bit.  I knew that this was something out of the ordinary when we were sent to the players’ lounge in order to meet the make-up artist.  My request to her was to give me some eyebrows and remove one of my chins.  Bless her, she did her best.  Then Helen and I went down to the changing room (thrilling!!) where she was to be filmed.  They sent me back to the lounge so that my spontaneity wasn’t spoilt!  When they finally came to collect me, I was taken out into Occupation Road for the filming.  It took a while to find an angle which allowed them to use the Watford FC on the outside of the SEJ stand as background.  I have to admit that I was a little reserved as it started.  I’m not very good with all the jingoistic stuff, so told them that Roy Moore (who was the next to be filmed) would be great for that element.  Then they asked me to talk about Graham Taylor, Elton John, Heurelheo Gomes, Troy Deeney and generally my love for Watford and there was no stopping me.  I must admit that I often see those pieces and wonder why the participants have no dignity.  On this occasion, dear reader, dignity was completely dispensed with.

Presenting the banner to the players (credit Alan Cozzi)

The league season had finished with a disappointing set of results, but the thing that upset me most was the red card shown to José Holebas.  I remember when Wilf Rostron was sent off at Luton in 1984.  The photo of Wilf’s face when he realised that he would miss the cup final is etched on my memory.  The idea that another player would suffer the same fate was almost too much to take.  I stayed in Watford on the Sunday night after the game, with the idea that I would spend the evening writing my match report.  I was so upset after the game that I couldn’t bring myself even to make a start.  On Monday morning, I drove over to the training ground at London Colney arriving on schedule and was shown to the media room where some of our party were already gathered.  Jon told us the plans for the presentation and then we were taken to the training pitch to wait for the players.  As they started to gather, Javi was introduced to each of us.  When Troy arrived, he recognised me, so said hello and gave me a kiss.  Then David showed him the memento pack that he had made with a replica of the banner and print-out of the messages and the video from the semi-final with the voice over from GT.  Troy could easily have said thanks and dismissed him, but he spent the time listening to David talking about what we had done, and he appeared interested and engaged.  I love him for doing that.  As the players gathered around the banner, it was lovely to see them reading the messages.  The photo with the banner was taken, the players left to start training and we went home.

Fuzz in all her magnificent glory

I had spotted José Holebas at the training ground, but he lurked in the background and looked a bit down, although I am not sure that is unusual.  There had been some discussion amongst the fans there about the appeal going in to the FA and there were varying opinions on what the outcome would be.  I was not hopeful.  I worked from home in the afternoon, which was just as well because, when the news came through that the red card had been rescinded, I found myself sobbing with relief and joy for José.  When we went to Wembley in 1984, my sister took a banner reading “Wilf is Innocent”.  I was so thankful that we wouldn’t have to cross out “Wilf” and write in “José”.

In the week before the game, the club put out a series of videos with the tag line “Imagine if”.  The From the Rookery End guys put out a couple of pre-final podcasts including a great interview with Ben Foster.  Then there were the Hornet Heaven specials.  All of these were wonderful, but the Hornet Heaven episode entitled “35 Years of Hurt” was just incredible.  Added to that we had fans uploading their photos from 1984 and the memories of the game, often involving family members who are no longer with us.  I spent a fortune on tissues this week.

Pre-match, I tried to follow the same pattern as for the semi-final.  I packed my bag with essentials including my scarf with the badge featuring Toddy and Steve Brister and the GT memorial game badge.  I made sure that I took the lucky seashell that Pete Fincham gave me at Woking.  I also added my first scarf, bought in 1979, which accompanied me to Wembley in 1984.  That may have been my mistake.  I took the train into Paddington listening to the latest Hornet Heaven episodes and then took the wrong exit out of the station (as I had previously) and again took an ill-advised detour on the way to the pub.

Fuzz and the family at Wembley (as is my usual practice, my yellow shirt and scarf were donned when I got to my seat)

Richard had booked a table for 11am, when the pub opened, under the assumption that leaving it much later would mean that we would arrive to a packed pub and have to evict those on our table.  I arrived just before the advertised opening time to find the doors open and a couple of guys lurking outside.  I entered a pub that was empty apart from the bar staff who looked a little askance, before breaking out in broad smiles and welcoming me, showing me to our table (the same one as we had for the semi-final) and offering me a drink.  I thought about having a coffee, but that seemed rude, so a pint of Doom Bar it was.  The guys that had been lurking outside also came in and turned out to be the door staff for later in the day, when there was more than one customer.  Thankfully Richard wasn’t far behind me and our party was soon in full swing.  As the “Happy Valley” contingent arrived, I was able to hand out the last of the match tickets that I had purchased (they had better nerves than I did, being able to wait until matchday to receive their tickets).  The ticket handover was accompanied by personalised bracelets that Fuzz had made for all of our party which were very gratefully received.  When Mike arrived, much was made of his winning the Supporter of the Season award.  Then we had lunch and more beer and waited for the designated time to leave the pub as I got more and more nervous.

35 years on, Rose’s daughters accompanied her to Wembley

The journey to Wembley was as simple as last time and we were through the turnstiles very quickly. It has to be said that, despite the strict bag policy, the search was the very definition of cursory.  When we reached the upper level, my family, who had travelled in from Hertfordshire so not joined us in the pub in central London, were all there to greet us.  As was my friend, Farzana.  Now, Fuzz had long talked about she and I dressing as Hornets if we ever went to a cup final.  Thankfully, after years of telling her that I would do nothing of the kind, she had decided to do her own thing.  “Think 70s Elton John.”  The last time that she had promised such a costume, she turned up dressed as a chicken.  This time, the costume was a work of art.  She had added bling and feathers to a yellow mac and it was absolutely gorgeous.  We had photos taken, but then she had to meet her people as so many admired her attire.

The band playing Abide with Me

We were in our seats in plenty of time for the pre-match entertainment, although we had missed the marching band playing Z-cars.  Thankfully, Annie Mac had added it to her play-list and it got an amazing cheer.  She followed with Elton’s “Are you ready for love?” and then “Wonderwall”, which was roundly booed by the Watford fans.  Next up was the FA film.  For Watford, Luther, Gibbsy and Roy Moore said their pieces before my face appeared, to cheers from my family.  I think (hope) that I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself.  This was followed by Abide with Me which always brings memories of Elton’s tears in the stands in 1984.  Then the FA Cup was brought onto the pitch by Tony Book and Luther Blissett.  It was lovely seeing Luther as part of the proceedings, I well remember seeing him walk around the pitch in 84, at the end of his sabbatical in Milan and being so sad that he wasn’t able to play.  At this point, a banner was displayed for each club.  City’s included the dates of their previous cup wins and a picture of Tony Book who had been on the winning team in 1969.  Watford’s showed a shirt with “Ossie 10” on it and “Ossie with us at Wembley” in honour of young Watford fan, Ossie Robinson who died of neuroblastoma in 2017.  That was a lovely gesture by the club.

Troy deep in conversation with Will Hughes

The teams came out and Troy was joined by Elton’s sons, Zachary and Elijah, with their Dad working in Copenhagen so unable to make the game.

The Cup Final team was, as expected, Gomes; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.

At last the game kicked off.  City started brightly but, on 10 minutes, the Hornets broke, Deulofeu played in Pereyra who shot straight at the onrushing Ederson.  There was a shout for a penalty as a shot from Doucouré seemed to hit Kompany on the arm, but it wasn’t given and Abdoulaye was booked for his protest.  City took the lead on 26 minutes.  It looked a bit of a soft goal, Doucouré lost possession, Sterling broke forward, the Watford defence were unable to clear the ball and Silva finished from a tight angle.  The second goal came after a series of corners, finally Silva found Jesus who beat Gomes.  It appeared that Sterling had applied the final touch, but the ball had already crossed the line and the goal was awarded to Jesus.  I was feeling pretty miserable at this point, so I was grateful for a moment that made me smile as Holebas lost the ball in the City half but sprinted back to make a magnificent recovering tackle.  So, we were two goals down at half time.  There were some among our group making positive noises after our comeback in the semi-final, but it was hard to see us coming back from this against City.

Gathering for a corner

The second half started with the ball in the Watford net from a diving header, but Jesus was in an offside position, so the goal was disallowed.  Watford then created a couple of decent chances, but seemed reluctant to take a shot, which is the story of our season.  Ten minutes into the half Guardiola made his first substitution bringing De Bruyne on for Mahrez.  Now that seemed just mean and the feeling was compounded when De Bruyne scored the third after receiving a square ball from Jesus, dribbling past Gomes and finding the net.  At this point “Blue Moon” was ringing out from the City end.  De Bruyne also had a hand in the fourth, playing a through ball for Jesus who was one-on-one with Gomes and made no mistake.  At this point I pleaded “Please make this stop,” before commenting to my sister on how amazing the 1881 in the stand below us were, still singing their hearts out.  I was joining in as much as I could and certainly joined the “One Graham Taylor” chant that came on 72 minutes.  Despite the scoreline, Watford hadn’t given up, and Success and Capoue both created chances but couldn’t get the ball in the net.  City’s fifth came as a low cross from Silva was converted by Sterling.  At this point something remarkable happened, the flags started waving in the Watford end.  First a few and then the stand was a sea of red and yellow, all around us getting to their feet to wave the flags and sing our hearts out for the lads.    The sixth City goal came when a shot from Sterling was turned onto the post by Gomes, but Raheem was there to finish from the rebound.  At this point the guy next to me muttered that was a joint record defeat in the final, not something that I wanted to hear.  Thankfully there were only a couple of minutes of added time.  Stones had a great chance to score a seventh, but Gomes saved with his feet.  The final whistle went to cheers from all corners of the ground.  I was so proud of the Watford fans who were still on their feet waving their flags and applauding their team.  The players must have been devastated but when they came to acknowledge the fans, there was a lovely moment as they stood to applaud a crowd that applauded back in recognition of all that they have done this season.

It must have been a long walk as the team took the steps up to the Royal Box, so it was lovely to see Gino Pozzo greeting Javi and the lads so warmly.  A good number of us waited to applaud the winners as Vincent Kompany lifted the cup.  I must admit that he is a player that I have always liked.  I was interested to see that Guardiola did not go up with the players, he was chatting with the Watford players with Deulofeu (who would have played for him at Barcelona) getting a particularly warm hug.

It took a while to leave the ground.  On the way out, I was delighted to bump into a woman who used to have a season ticket behind us in the Rookery.  She gave it up when she had her first child, which didn’t seem too long ago until she introduced us to her youngest who is now 9 years old.

On the way back to the station, we bumped into Steve Terry who was very chatty and felt that the result was unfair on the lads.

The banner says it all

I headed back to the pub in desperate need of a glass of wine.  I was feeling pretty low and it must have been obvious as Jacque gave me a warm hug saying that she had never seen me look so down after a game.  I must admit that I didn’t expect us to win, but the thrashing was very hard to take.  Mostly for the players who have been magnificent for most of this season and really didn’t deserve to be beaten that badly.  A City fan that we encountered in the pub reflected that they were a good team, but not often that good.  They clearly wanted to finish their season on a high and did so and there was nothing that we could do about it.

As the wine flowed and we reflected on our season, it was time to put the game in some perspective.  The defeat was awful and will hurt for a long time, but it is always the good times that you remember most.  For most of us, the abiding memory of 2013 is that amazing semi-final win against Leicester.  Going back to 1987, the quarter-final win at Arsenal remains one of my most fondly remembered games in the FA Cup.  In years to come, the semi-final against Wolves will be much talked about in a way that the final won’t be.

As I received messages of commiseration today, my response was that it really hurt, but this season has been the best that I have experienced since the glory days of Graham Taylor.  I am so thankful to Gino Pozzo and Scott Duxbury for what they have done for Watford.  In my time following the Hornets, I have seen many highs but also many lows.  I lived through times when I thought that I would no longer have a club to support. These are great times for the club, but we can never take them for granted. That is why I was so proud of the Watford fans yesterday.   To give the team such incredible support when they are being badly beaten is the mark of a true fan in my eyes.  “We’ll support you ever more”, doesn’t mean only when they are winning.  The Watford fans as a whole were amazing and the lovely people that I meet at games, either in the pub beforehand or in the stadium, are a massive part of what makes going to watch Watford special for me.

It has been a tough end to the season, but the fixtures are out on 13th June.  Who knows what joys next season will bring.

Come on you Hornets!!

No Way, Jose

Don and I with Capoue and Mariappa

The end of season dinner took place last Thursday and was a really lovely evening.  The first person of note that I encountered was Gino Pozzo. As he walked past me, I thanked him and he smiled. He was busy at that point, so I didn’t bother him.  The Taylor family were out in force as usual and I had a hug from Rita and a chat with Karen.

One of our party is an old friend of Caroline Robinson, so was delighted to be there to see Paul inducted into the Hall of Fame. Paul’s speech was really heart-warming. He spoke with such passion about his time at Watford and how he didn’t want to leave. He also paid warm tribute to Luther, Gibbsy and, of course, GT in the course of which he thanked Rita for all that they did for him. Our present leadership did him proud as he was given a table for 10 so his parents and in-laws were there with Paul, Caroline and their 4 children rather than sitting at home baby-sitting.  His youngest son spent the rest of the evening walking around clutching his trophy.

Javi had a smile and a hug for everyone

Young player of the season was Domingos Quina. His message was that he just wants to play. I hope that we see a lot more of him.  Players’ Player was Ben Foster who was rightly lauded for his positive attitude and sense of humour.  Despite a sterling effort by Alice to garner enough votes for José Holebas, Gerard Deulofeu won the Individual Performance of the Season for his tremendous substitute performance at the semi-final. He also won the Goal of the Season (of course). He paid tribute to his teammates and said that it was all about winning as a team. Last year I was trying to persuade him that Watford was a much better location than Barcelona. This year he seemed very happy to have made the move.

Player of the Season was a fight between Holebas, Foster and Etienne Capoue.  Capoue was the very worthy winner and his speech was lovely. “I love my club and I love the fans.” He is such a warm, smiley guy. I have loved watching him on the pitch this season and he was equally lovely off the pitch.

Javi was surrounded by fans all evening and had a smile and a hug for all of them.  The same was true, as it is every year, of Troy and Heurelho. Both Watford legends who have so much time for the fans.  I love them both.

But I think my highlight of the evening was my second encounter with Gino. I had spent the evening saying “Thank-you” to all the players and staff that I met, but Gino deserved that extra heartfelt thanks, especially with the recent re-emergence of Bassini bringing back so many horrible memories. Gino and his wife were absolutely lovely, countering my thanks with their own for my support of the club. I came away a little gobsmacked and very touched.

The jumper from the 84 cup final, a thing of great beauty

Sunday was the sixth anniversary of the play-off semi-final against Leicester.  A game that must be among the favourites of all Watford fans who were in attendance.  I still howl at the injustice when the penalty is given and squeal with delight at the double save, shout “don’t try to shoot” at Hoggy and then DEENEY!!!!  The memory gives me goosepimples and reminds me why I love football so much.

I was in Watford bright and early in order to visit the exhibition at the Museum.  As I walked down the High Street, I encountered a chancer selling dodgy looking merchandise and wearing a shirt bearing the legend “Garcia’s Cup Final Heroes.”  I said, “You do know his name is Gracia.”  He laughed, “Yes, I’ll fix it tomorrow.”  Hmmm.

On arrival at the museum, I was very happy to see my friend, Sarah, welcoming visitors.  While there I took the opportunity to buy the “Hornet Heaven” collection so I will have something to read during the close season.  The exhibition was a look back at our previous Wembley finals and was absolutely lovely.  There were lots of mementoes of the previous events, including medals that belonged to GT and Nigel Gibbs.  A wonderful jumper with “Taylor Made for Wembley” and the 84 players’ names knitted into bands around the waist and cuffs.  My friend, Farzana, had contributed knitted versions of Deeney, Gomes, Deulofeu and Mariappa.  The attention to detail was stunning.  As if that wasn’t enough, I was thrilled to be able to (don white gloves and) hold the Play-off final trophy.  What an honour.  Sarah and Farzana had put on a crafting day on Saturday for children (and adults) to come along and make rosettes and bunting.  The room was still open and I know of more than one adult who took the opportunity to make themselves a rosette for Wembley.  While there, a number of old friends arrived, so it was lovely to catch up.

Holding the play-off trophy

It says a lot about my matchday habits that I was horrified to be arriving at the West Herts at 1:30, which seemed to be obscenely late.  Still, I managed to fit in a couple of beers, some lunch, pork scratchings and fill a goody bag of sweets, so all the requisite boxes were ticked.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes from the Chelsea game bringing Capoue and Kabasele in for Chalobah and Mariappa.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.

One of my pre-match rituals is to don my replica shirt when I get to my seat, so I was horrified when I could not find my shirt in my bag.  I panicked, came to terms with the fact that I hadn’t brought it, then took one last rummage and found it at the bottom, hidden under the books and swag that I had acquired at the museum.  What a relief!!

The Hornets started the game very brightly and Deulofeu had the ball in the net within the first minute, but I stayed in my seat as I had already seen that the flag was up for offside.  Geri had another decent chance soon after with a shot from the edge of the area, but Fabianski was down to make the save.  A lovely passage of play finished with a cross from Hughes that was blocked for a corner, from which Pereyra played the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was deflected wide.  From this corner, the ball dropped to Hughes whose overhead kick was saved by Fabianski.

Hughes shouting instructions as Capoue looks worried

The first chance for the visitors came as Antonio won a free kick on the edge of the box.  It was in a dangerous position, but Lanzini’s delivery was dreadful and went out of play.  So, it was against the run of play when Noble opened the scoring in the 15th minute after exchanging passes with Antonio, he beat Kabasele and finished into the bottom corner.  A dispiriting turn of events, but there was still a long way to go.  The Hammers had a chance to extend their lead from a free kick, Lanzini’s delivery was headed clear by Capoue, but only as far as Antonio whose shot from distance was wide of the target.  The visitors were forced into an early change as an injury to Fredericks meant that he had to be replaced by Zabaleta.  Deulofeu tested Fabianski again with a lovely shot, but the keeper was equal to it.  Then Pereyra received a cross from Holebas, turned and shot, but it was an easy catch for Fabianski.  Pereyra went on a run which looked very promising when Zabaleta slipped, allowing him a clear path to goal, but he squared the ball instead of shooting and it went out for a corner.   Yet again Watford were made to rue missed chances, as a shot from Antonio was turned onto the bar by Foster and Lanzini headed the rebound home.  Watford could have pulled one back with the last kick of the half, but Deeney’s close range shot was cleared off the line.  So we went into the break two goals down and, yet again, feeling that it didn’t reflect the balance of play.  West Ham had scored with their only two on-target shots of the half.

Mike being interviewed after winning the Supporter of the Season award

At half time, the Supporter of the Season award was presented to my dear friend, Mike Raggett, in honour of his sterling work for the Community Trust including the gorgeous book that was produced for their 25th anniversary that was pretty much all his own work (and was a lot of work).  He was introduced to the Hornets by his lovely wife, Dee, who we sadly lost a couple of years ago, so it was also a fitting tribute to her memory.  Academy player of the season was Daniel Phillips.  Watford Ladies Player of the Season was their captain, Helen Ward.

I was just sitting down for the second half after kick-off when I heard a shout and looked up to see Deulofeu rounding Fabianski and slotting the ball into the net.  He celebrated briefly, but the team quickly returned to the centre circle in order to ensure a quick restart.  The smiles were soon taken off our faces as Antonio went down under a challenge from Holebas.  He had been so easily knocked off his feet during the first half, that I was sure the referee would give the decision against him.  Instead, after intervention from the linesman, he brandished a red card and José was sent to the dressing room.  My blood ran cold.  The photo of Wilf Rostron when he realised that he was being sent off and would miss the cup final in 1984 is etched on my memory.  It still hurts that such a lovely bloke missed the biggest game of his career.  The idea that another left back, one who is so passionate and has been so great for us this season, would suffer the same fate was almost too much to bear.

Goalscorer Deulofeu

The Hornets had a great chance for an equaliser as Deulofeu broke into the box and, for once, did the unselfish thing and passed to Doucouré, the ball was cut out and cleared, if Geri had been selfish and taken a shot the game would likely have been level. Deulofeu had another chance almost immediately, this time he tried to chip the keeper, but Fabianski was able to make the catch.  Pereyra was the next one to fashion a chance as he ran into the box but was muscled off the ball and the chance was gone.  At the other end, there was a rare chance for the visitors as Arnautović hit a shot from distance well over the bar.  Gracia’s first substitution was also forced on him as Deulofeu picked up a knock and had to be replaced by Gray.  There was a shout for a penalty as Gray was bundled over in the box, but the referee gave a corner.  Watford threatened again as Femenía put a decent cross into the box, both Deeney and Gray jumped for it, but neither could make the necessary connection.  Another great opportunity went begging when a low cross from Hughes found Deeney, but the captain was unable to control the ball and it went out for a goal kick.  At the midpoint of the half, both teams made a substitution with Wilshere replacing Lanzini for the visitors and Hughes making way for Masina for the Hornets.  The visitors threatened again as Arnautović broke into the box and tried a shot, but Foster was equal to it.

Challenging in the West Ham box

West Ham’s third goal came soon after.  A volley from Anderson bounced back off the post and Arnautović was on hand to put in the rebound.  I think the heads of everyone to do with Watford dropped at this point.  West Ham had another chance as Antonio tried to chip Foster, but the Watford stopper did well to make the save.  Antonio went down again, this time under a challenge from Femenía in the box, and the referee pointed to the spot.  Before they could take the penalty, Gracia made his final substitution replacing Kabasele with Mariappa.  When Noble finally stepped up to take the spot kick, he sent Foster the wrong way and the rout was complete.  At this point the ground started to empty, much to my annoyance, which was voiced by a guy in the next block to me who sang “loyal supporters” to those departing.  The visitors made their final change with Sánchez coming on in place of Rice.  The Hornets had a couple of late chances to spare their blushes.  First, from a Mariappa throw-in, Deeney tried a back header but Fabianski made the save.  Then a cross from Doucouré found Deeney whose shot swept wide of the target.  There was just time for Capoue to pick up a record 14th yellow card for the season and the referee blew up to put us out of our misery.

Gomes addressing the crowd

I am pleased to report that the final whistle was met with applause from those left in the Rookery.  Those who stayed were treated to the presentation of the main player awards for the season, a farewell speech from Gomes, several of the kids having their Makka Salah moment (although there was a mini goalie involved on this occasion) and an unprovoked attack on Harry Hornet by a group of the younger children.  I have to say that we were highly amused to see Nate Chalobah taking a series of photos of various members of his family with Harry.  They certainly let him know who they thought was the star.

I hate leaving the ground after the last match of the season, so left very late and saw José and Diana Holebas walking towards me.  He looked devastated and I could only say thank you to him for all that he has done for us this season.

 

Knitted Deulofeu

Back to the West Herts for our final post-match drinks of the season.  Mike was there, proudly showing off his Supporter of the Season trophy.  But, apart from celebrating Mike’s success, the mood was somewhat sombre.  We had only needed a point to achieve a top half finish and I was gutted that we hadn’t managed to do that.  However, I took a deep breath and remembered that my hope at the start of the season was just that we would finish higher than we had in the seasons since our return to the top division.  My optimistic prediction had been 12th and we had surpassed that.  Watford haven’t had a top half finish in the top division since the first GT era, so this was something to celebrate.  When you add to that the fact that we are in an FA Cup Final for only the second time in our history, this will go down as one of the best seasons that we have ever experienced.  So, despite the disappointing end, the memories of this season will be mostly joyous.

However, the thing that was really upsetting me was the sending off of José Holebas.  I still have not got over the injustice done to Wilf Rostron in 1984.  My sister took a banner to the final declaring “Wilf is Innocent”.  I have never forgiven either Roger Milford or Paul Elliott for their parts in him missing the cup final.  The thought that Jose Holebas, who has become a bit of a cult figure for his Eeyore-like demeanour but has also been one of our best players this season, was going to miss the final broke my heart.  I have to say that it was a good thing that I chose to work from home today as, when the news came through that the red card had been overturned, I sobbed uncontrollably.  Suddenly there is a good omen for next Saturday.  Jose is innocent and the Hornets have the opportunity to choose from their best players for the final.  Our chances are slim, but in a cup game you never know.  As long as we all take our best game to Wembley, we have a chance. Oh, there go those nerves again.

A Frustrating Sunday Afternoon at the Bridge

Foster about to take a free kick

This is one of the easiest of away trips for me and, for once, the bizarre weekend schedules of South Western Railway did not cause me any problems.  They had even cleared the tree that had meant a trip from Clapham Junction to Windsor on Saturday evening required a detour via Paddington.  So, after a pleasant train journey to Putney and a walk through some dodgy looking areas of Fulham, I found myself in Parsons Green to meet friends for Sunday lunch.  Lots of talk of what we had been up to since we last met.  Mike and I had seen Maggie Smith in “A German Life”, which was superb.  Graham had been to the Don McCullin exhibition and was still a bit shell shocked from it.  I had missed City Orns to see The Unthanks, so was updated on the gathering that I had missed while enjoying an evening of Northumbrian folk music.  Our peace was briefly shattered when the Norfolk/East Anglian Horns turned up to say “Hello”.  Glenn told us that, as it was the last away game of the season, he had started his trip with champagne and strawberries.  Our friends from Norfolk know how to travel in style.  A Chelsea fan appeared and wished us luck in the Cup Final.  The Sunday roasts were absolutely delicious, and we were enjoying our lunch so much that we almost forgot that there was a match to go to.  Almost …

The welcome return of Deeney

We left plenty of time for our walk to Stamford Bridge and to negotiate our way past the multiple phalanxes of security guards.  There was a surprise in store as we were greeted by a voice announcing, “FA Cup Finalists to the left.”  I was still smiling when I heard another directing us on “The road to Wembley.”  A rather lovely and unexpected welcome which meant that my opinion of Chelsea went up massively.

Team news was that Gracia had made two changes with the welcome return of Deeney in place of Gray and a rare start for Chalobah deputising for the injured Capoue.  So, the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.  The choice of Chalobah over Cleverley, who was on the bench, was an interesting one.  Our hope was that Nate’s return to Chelsea would give him an extra incentive to impress.  It was pleasing to see that he was given a warm welcome back by the Chelsea fans.

As we took our seats, Alice produced her flag.  Designed by the 1881, in an homage to our previous cup final, it bore the legend “Hot cross Barnes Holebas.”  Just wonderful.

Mariappa on the ball

The game kicked off and there was a great early chance for the Hornets as Deulofeu turned and hit a shot that was just wide of the target.  Watford should have taken the lead on 8 minutes when, from a short corner, Holebas crossed for Deeney whose header was heading for the top corner until Kepa somehow got a hand to it and kept it out, the ball dropped to Hughes whose shot was well over the bar.  Sarri was forced into an early change as Kanté picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Loftus-Cheek.  Chelsea had their first shot in the 14th minute, a chip from Jorginho that was blocked by Foster.  The home side threatened again as Higuaín broke into the box but was stopped by a brilliant tackle from Mariappa.  Watford created another decent chance as Hughes laid the ball off to Deulofeu, but the shot was wide of the target.  The next chance for the Hornets came as a lovely passing move finished with Holebas shooting over the bar.  Chelsea had a half chance as the ball was dinked to Hazard in the box, Foster appeared to hesitate, but recovered and was able to gather the ball.  Then Pereyra and Deeney combined to get the ball to Doucouré in shooting position, but his shot flew wide of the target.  There was a shout for a penalty as Femenía tussled with Luiz in the box.  From our angle, it looked as though the Chelsea man was playing for the foul, the referee was equally unimpressed and waved play on.  Another chance for the home side came as Hazard took the ball off Doucouré before playing in Pedro, whose shot curled over the target.  There was some frustration in the away end as the ball was passed from Doucouré to Deeney to Pereyra, all of whom could have taken a shot, but none did, and the chance was gone.    At the other end, Pedro played a one-two with Higuaín before taking a shot that was just wide of the target.  Another opportunity went begging after some good work from Pereyra who slipped in the build-up, but recovered to put in a decent cross, sadly there was no Watford player on hand to take advantage.  The half time whistle went to boos from the Chelsea fans and cheers from the travelling Hornets who had seen their team completely dominate the half, playing some exquisite football, but failing to make the most of their chances.  When have we heard that before this season?

Great to see Chalobah back in the team

All our good work was undone in the first five minutes of the second half.  Hazard tried a shot from an acute angle that Foster pushed around the post for a corner.  From the corner Hazard crossed and Loftus-Cheek beat Chalobah to open the scoring.  Two minutes later, the home side were two up as, from another corner, Luiz came around the blind side of Mariappa and headed home.  It was the Manchester City away game all over again.  The Hornets tried to hit back as Deeney found Deulofeu just outside the box, he took his time to pick his shot before firing just wide of the far post.  Pereyra played a lovely through ball to Deulofeu whose shot was weak and easily dealt with by Kepa.  We then had the interesting sight of a fired-up Holebas (what other kind is there), tackling Pereyra before snapping into a set of challenges.  Even when we are losing, angry José can make me smile.  Chelsea had a decent chance to score a third as Hazard found Pedro in the box, thankfully the shot was saved by Foster and Loftus-Cheek put the follow-up wide.  The Hornets had a chance to pull one back as Mariappa crossed for Doucouré, who couldn’t get above the ball, so it came off the top of his head and flew over the bar.  At the other end, the home side had a great chance to increase their lead as a shot from Higuaín was kept out by a brilliant save from Foster.  Then Chalobah played a lovely ball for Deulofeu who hit a decent cross towards Deeney, but Alonso put the ball out for a corner.

Holebas and Pereyra prepare for a free kick

Gracia made his first substitution replacing Chalobah with Cleverley.  It had been an interesting choice before the game, but Nate had justified his selection putting in the best performance that I have seen from him since he came back from injury.  Watford had another chance to reduce the deficit when Deulofeu found Hughes in prime position, but the shot was appalling.  A number around us were berating him for passing instead of shooting.  It looked like a shot to me, but it was that poor that it was mistaken for a pass.  Any hopes the Hornets had of a comeback were dashed when Pedro played the ball to Higuaín, Foster came out to meet him, but the Argentine chipped the keeper and found the net.  But Watford were still fighting and Deeney should have done better when the ball fell to him, but he belted his shot over the bar.  There was a much better chance soon after when Holebas nicked the ball and rounded Luiz, but his shot rebounded agonisingly off the crossbar.  Each side made late substitutions.  Giroud replaced Higuaín for the home side, while Deeney and Deulofeu made way for Gray and Success.  Troy looked furious when he saw the board go up indicating that his afternoon was over.  Watford finally had the ball in the net, and it was typical of our day.  A free kick from Pereyra appeared to have been cleared off the line by Holebas, Success got his head on it, but it bounced off Gray on the way in and was flagged offside due to Gray’s inadvertent touch.  Chelsea should have scored a fourth as Hazard crossed for Giroud who scuffed his shot and cleared the bar.

Pereyra takes a free kick

Watford had a half chance as Hughes crossed for Success, but the header was an easy catch for Kepa.  The last substitution for Chelsea saw Cahill come on for Luiz, he was handed the captain’s armband and got the biggest cheer of the afternoon.  Femenía went on a decent run, but his cross was turned around for a corner.  The first card of the game came in time added on as Doucouré was cautioned for a pull on Hazard.  Foster was in action twice in added time, first to divert a shot from Hazard into the side netting, then to gather a low shot from Giroud.  The last chance of the game fell to the Hornets, but the shot from Success was poor and easily saved by Kepa.

We headed back to Parsons Green to drown our sorrows.  As we arrived at the pub, we saw the Chelsea fan who had wished us luck at Wembley before the game.  His verdict, “We robbed you.”  He wasn’t wrong.  The scoreline indicated that we had been well beaten, the pattern of the game nothing of the kind.  But this has been the case in a number of our games against the top six this season.  Similar to the matches against Arsenal and Manchester United, we dominated large parts of the game, but could not turn that domination into goals and were let down by defensive mistakes.  In the first half in particular, the passing was incredibly slick, and we played some gorgeous football but our finishing let us down.  It was great to see Troy back.  He looked hungry and desperate to make up for lost time and we saw the leadership that we had been missing.  As frustrating as the afternoon had been, the conversation soon took a positive turn as we reflected how far this team has come.  In contrast to when we were first promoted, I now travel to most games feeling that we have a team good enough to get something from the game.  It is very rare that we leave a ground with that humiliating feeling of having been taught a lesson by a much better team.  That is something to be relished and when we look back on this season, it will be with pride and happiness and a sense that we have progressed.

 

The Battle for Seventh Place

Gathering for a corner

It has been a very stressful week.  Work has been full on, with a number of important deadlines meaning that I was working long hours.  But this game had taken on enormous importance, as it would surely be key in our fight with Wolves for seventh place, so it was never far from my thoughts.  The importance was brought home when I woke with a jolt at 5am on Saturday, knowing that I had to be somewhere and stressing about how I would get there.  When I was awake enough to realise that kick-off was at 3pm, so I had plenty of time, I calmed down a bit.

For once, I timed my journey perfectly.  After having a quick chat with Mick, our Police liaison officer, at the Junction (he was confident of a win, I wasn’t), I arrived at the West Herts just after it opened.  Our party was a little depleted due to commitments elsewhere, but there was still a good turnout at ‘our’ table.  Glenn appeared with his sweets as usual but, as it was a Saturday, there was the extra treat of the delicious pork scratchings that he gets from his butcher which I had as dessert after a portion of jerk chicken.  I left for the ground a little earlier than usual to pick up my tickets for the FA Cup Final.  It was so good to have them in my hands at last.

Doucoure on the ball

Team news was three changes from Tuesday with Gracia again alternating his defensive options with Femenía and Mariappa in for Janmaat and Kabasele, we also had the welcome return of Holebas taking the place of Masina.  Adam was terrific in the game against Southampton, but Jose would always be in my first XI.  So the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Mariappa, Cathcart, Femenía; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes; Deulofeu, Gray.  I must say that I felt very reassured by the team selection.

The teams ran out to “I’m Still Standing” and I was left cold again.  It is not growing on me, but at least you can hear it, unlike the Superman theme.

The game kicked off and some of our fans decided that this was a good time to goad Wolves after our cup semi-final win.  I always think that pride comes before a fall, so the chants worried me greatly.  There was a cagey start to the game, the first chance for either side came on 12 minutes when Deulofeu won a corner.  The delivery from Holebas was deep and headed back by Capoue to Doucouré whose shot was blocked, the ball fell to Pereyra whose shot was also blocked.  I must admit that, with the early disasters in the previous two home games, I was very happy when we got to 15 minutes on the clock without a catastrophic event.

Geri looking baffled at Jose’s secret instructions

The first shot on target didn’t come until the 21st minute when Neves tried a shot from distance, Foster was equal to it.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead when Pereyra played a lovely ball to Deulofeu, but Geri slipped as he was about to take the shot and the chance was gone.  Hughes did brilliantly to control a dropping ball, he found Deulofeu, but the shot was turned around a post for a corner, which Deulofeu played short to Holebas whose shot was terrible and flew well wide of the target.  From my position in the Rookery, I thought that Wolves had taken the lead when a shot from Jiménez was cleared off the line by Capoue.  I can’t have been the only one holding my breath waiting for the referee to indicate that the ball had actually crossed the line before it was cleared, but that indication didn’t come, and the game remained goalless.  A lovely forward passing move involving Pereyra and Hughes finished with the ball with Deulofeu whose shot was blocked.  Watford should have opened the scoring from the resultant corner which Holebas delivered deep to Pereyra, he crossed for Mariappa who headed back to Hughes, who had the goal at his mercy, but directed his header over the target.  The opening goal came late in the half.  From our vantage point, it appeared that the ball had gone out for a throw-in.  The linesman on that side, must have seen the ball rolling past him, but felt the need to consult with the referee before giving a corner.  The Hornets failed to clear from the corner allowing Jota to cross for Jiménez to head home and then celebrate by showing us the name on the back of his shirt, while our hearts sank.  In retrospect I wonder if he lost the mask at Wembley.  Watford should have hit back almost immediately as Hughes found Gray in the box, but he shot over the bar when it looked easier to score.  In mitigation, Andre claimed that he had been fouled, but the referee was having none of it.  Just on half time, Deulofeu played a neat one-two with Pereyra, but his shot was blocked.

Celebrating Gray’s equaliser

So we went into the break a goal down after a very even half of football that had been short on chances.  In contrast to Tuesday, the half time entertainment was restricted to the schools’ penalty shoot-out.  This was much more like it.

The second half started brilliantly for the Hornets as a mistake in the Wolves defence allowed the ball to break to Deulofeu, he tried to beat Patricio but the ball broke to Gray who found the net and sent the Watford fans wild.  After we had finished celebrating, we then had the entertainment of watching other fans coming back after getting their half time refreshments.  Their faces were a picture.  Wolves had a half chance to regain the lead as Doherty crossed for Jota but the shot was well over the target.  Deulofeu then played a lovely ball to Gray, but Boly muscled him off the ball and came away with it.  Pereyra released Deulofeu who tried to chip the keeper, but Patricio made the catch.  The first booking of the game went to Moutinho for barging Hughes over.  Not wanting to be left out, Holebas then fouled Jota to get a yellow card of his own.  Watford had a decent chance to take the lead as Doucouré headed the ball down to Pereyra, but the shot was wide of the near post.

Perayra prepares to take a corner

There were shouts for a penalty as a shot from Hughes appeared to be handled, but the referee wasn’t interested.  That was Will’s last involvement in the game as he was replaced with Kabasele.  Hughes had been terrific, absolutely everywhere, and deserved the ovation that he was given when he left the pitch.  But the change in formation did not favour the Hornets and the next chance fell to Moutinho who tried a shot from distance that was deflected over the bar.  The winning goal for the visitors seemed to come out of nothing.  A long cross-field ball from Neves found Jota who finished past Foster.  From the other end of the ground, it just looked unfortunate, but reports from those at the Vicarage Road end indicated that Foster should have done better with the cross.  Others blamed Storm Hannah.  Gracia was forced into a substitution bringing Success (!) on for Cathcart who had been limping for a while.  I love Javi, but his substitutions on Saturday were interesting to say the least.  Jota was booked for time wasting after kicking the ball away when Watford were awarded a free kick.  It was amusing to see him trying to claim that he had been passing the ball back to Foster.  The visitors made a late substitution bringing Cavaleiro on for Jiménez, who ambled off the pitch.  There were shouts for a penalty from the Wolves fans as Kabasele brought Jota down in the box.  It looked like a superb tackle from where we were and the referee agreed.  There was a late booking for Capoue who then got involved in a spot of handbags.  Nuno brought Gibbs-White on for Jota to waste a little more time. The final whistle went soon after, ensuring that Wolves left Hertfordshire with the three points and in pole position to finish in seventh place.

Capoue leaving Mapps to do the work at a corner 😉

Unlike on Tuesday, it was hard to be angry at the end of this game.  The word that I heard repeatedly was “disappointing”.  It had been a very even contest between two well matched teams and the best team on the day won the game.  Again, we missed Deeney’s leadership.  That harsh sending off has probably prevented us finishing as the best of the rest.  However, we can only hope that the rest has done him good and he comes back to spearhead a barnstorming end to the season that finishes with him lifting the FA Cup.

After the game, my sister, Rose, insisted on going into the Hornet shop, having seen our Cate’s purchase of the cup final shirt placing GT in 1984 alongside Javi in 2019.  We both emerged with the same t-shirt, probably the first time the three of us will have an identical item of clothing since our lovely Mum used to make our dresses in the 70s.

I know that the most important game is the next one, but now that seventh place looks impossible, all focus is on the Cup Final, which has to be the better way to qualify for Europe.  Oh dear, there go those nerves again.